How a small technical oversight led to website failure for a leading UK brand

Date: 22nd May 2018
Author: Louise Arnold

Website failure on Gift list for John Lewis

Website failure is not something that directly springs to mind for this brand: which regularly takes pole position when people are asked to list the home-grown brands that inspire the most loyalty among British buyers, John Lewis. However, it doesn’t take much to dent a brand and lose sales; a minor oversight can significantly impact website performance, whether a subtle or a complete website failure.

It’s a danger that was highlighted recently when John Lewis hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, thanks to a gift list site domain registration that had gone unrenewed.

John Lewis Gift List website failure screenshot

Just one small administrative oversight and John Lewis not only caused concern among wedding couples and their guests unable to access gift lists, but also received a swathe of bad press on social media and from broadcasters gleefully sharing the retailer’s faux pas far and wide.

The problem was resolved fairly quickly – without seriously impacting the service – but it didn’t do any favours to a brand that prides itself on quality and reliability.

Close but no cigar – performance monitoring that’s fit for purpose

Despite ‘close enough’ no longer being an acceptable approach in today’s world of rich online functionality, all too often business teams are told that their basic monitoring is adequate, when in reality it gets nowhere near measuring true user experience (UX).

At SciVisum, we are often privy to the ‘workarounds’ that are employed by some brands, including: “it’s too hard to follow the path of every possible customer interaction, so we’ve focused on the easy ones”; and “we monitor the user’s experience from our internal systems and in-browser tools, so we don’t need tools that actually ‘do what the customer does’ on the live site to prove it’s all working”.

Technical problems cause UX issues you don’t know about, as well as the ones you do

The root cause for John Lewis was a very old-school infrastructure issue: the domain name renewal had been overlooked. Because it impacted all site users, it was a glitch that was was inevitably going to attract attention and be resolved – a serious website failure.

More damaging are the problems that don’t impact 100% of users, rather they affect a subset who are using a particular function on the site in a particular way, and/or from a particular mobile device. These problems can exist on a site for weeks, before being picked up and fixed, potentially causing brand damage through user frustration, as well as lost sales.

Common web performance occurrences that impact your bottom line

A few of the critical performance issues we commonly come across include:

  • Subsets of products that cannot be bought online by mobile users – because the ‘Buy Now’ button is obscured by product images and text, due to hard-to-spot flaws in CSS and HTML design that clash when product photos or text are larger than normal.
  • Users unable to checkout – because they have added items to their basket earlier in the day that have since gone out of stock, in which case, the CheckOut button does nothing when clicked. A savvy user may have the nous to delete products from the basket one at a time and will uncover the problem product eventually but not many will have the know-how or the patience.
  • Key money-making page elements not always visible such as ‘people who bought this also bought these’, as odd interactions on page personalisation and the specific product selected can cause glitches that lose that important page section.

Take a fresh approach to measuring your website performance and user experience

The only reliable way to measure your website performance accurately and to understand your customers’ experience – is to walk in their shoes.

SciVisum’s website performance monitoring gives you full visibility of real customer-facing issues by following actual user journeys through your site, dynamically making intelligent choices from page content. This helps you to quickly identify and resolve all the critical performance issues before they impact your customers – and your bottom line.

We can’t guarantee your customers their own happy-ever-after but we can make sure you get them to the altar without falling at the first hurdle.

Are you sure your website monitoring is telling you the real truth of your user experience – enabling you to troubleshoot the complex issues that impact on performance and your bottom line? For help getting started with more realistic performance monitoring read our free eBook.

Discover how SciVisum's realistic monitoring gives you full visibility of your critical customer-facing issues

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